On Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney announced that he will not seek another term in Congress, likely suggesting that his 30-year career in politics will come to an end.
Shortly after Romney announced his retirement, McKay Coppins, a staff writer for the magazine The Atlantic, published the first excerpt of a biography he had begun working on in which the Utah Republican unburdened himself of decades of private thoughts and conversations.
The section of “Romney: A Reckoning,” slated for release next month, offered a detailed portrait of the senator grappling with his mortality, his legacy and his loss of faith in the party he once served as standard-bearer for.
“A very large portion of my party,” Romney told Coppins, “really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”
The revelation about his party’s loss of loyalty to the Constitution was something Romney said he had only realized after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot — the violent, deadly crescendo of Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the democratic results of the 2020 election. Trump, his supporters and his allies in Congress were willing to embrace authoritarianism over democracy if it meant they could preserve their power, Romney lamented.
Romney considered for years leaving the Republican Party — all five of his sons had — and “almost went through” with a third-party presidential run, Coppins wrote, but opted not to after concluding he would hurt President Joe Biden Biden, who he was not a fan of, more than Trump in 2024. He had no misconceptions he would win. All he wanted to do was stop a second Trump term and lay out his vision for the country “without regard for the political consequences.”
And in April of this year, he pitched West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat in a deep red state, on starting a third party to promote centrism and endorse “whichever party’s nominee isn’t stupid.” He tried to convince Manchin this would be better than running as an independent, something he had discussed with Romney privately, Coppins wote, and has teased publicly.
The idea may still move into the execution phase, according to Coppins. The last time they spoke, Romney was still “brainstorming.”
Elsewhere in the excerpt, the senator spoke candidly about the colleagues whose allegiance to Trump he found distasteful, cynical and dangerous.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky baffled Romney with his public appeasement of Trump despite calling him an “idiot” in private. A spokesperson told Coppins that McConnell did not recall the conversation, which Romney said occurred during Trump’s first impeachment trial, and emphasized the Senate leader’s loyalty to the former president.
Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, were among the smartest people in the Senate, “if not the smartest,” but were putting “politics above the interests of liberal democracy and the Constitution,” Romney said. And he recounted that he once asked Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson if there was “any conspiracy you don’t believe?”
“I don’t know that I can disrespect someone more than J.D. Vance,” Romney said of the freshman Ohio senator, who he viewed as transforming from a thoughtful author who translated the woes of Appalachia to a dogged Trump Republican who degraded himself for political gain
“It’s not like you’re going to be famous and powerful because you became a United States senator. It’s like, really? You sell yourself so cheap?” Romney told his biographer. “How do you sit next to him at lunch?”
And Mike Pence, Romney said no one was “more willing to ascribe God’s will to things that were ungodly” than Trump’s vice president.
After the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, as he questioned his own role in building a party that could so quickly descend into demagoguery and a willingness to dismiss political violence, Romney developed an obsession with a map on the wall of his Senate office that tracked the history of humanity’s empires and great civilizations, Coppins wrote.
Tyranny — “ a man gets some people around him and begins to oppress and dominate others” — was the status quo for thousands of years, Romney concluded. America’s democratic experiment “is fighting human nature,” he said.
“This is a very fragile thing,” he told Coppins.
On Jan. 2, 2021, Romney was warned by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, that a high-ranking Pentagon official had said the certification on the Electoral College vote, set for Jan. 6, was being viewed as a moment of reckoning by Trump’s extremist supporters. King told his colleague law enforcement was tracking online discussion of gun smuggling, bombs, arson and punishing the then-president’s perceived enemies in Congress — much of which eventually occurred or was attempted during the attack.
As a critic of Trump’s, King was concerned for Romney’s safety. More than two years later, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee is still paying $5,000 a day for private security to protect his family from the supporters of his party’s presidential nominee in the next two cycles, according to the book excerpt.
After his conversation with King, Romney texted McConnell and relayed what King had told him.
“There are calls to burn down your home,” Romney wrote. “I am concerned that the instigator—the President—is the one who commands the reinforcements the DC and Capitol police might require.”
McConnell did not respond, Coppins wrote.
In the 32 months since that day, over 1,100 people have been charged with crimes connected to the riot, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Leaders of far-right militias have been sentenced to decades in prison. And special counsel Jack Smith has charged Trump in federal court with four felonies connected to the “unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy.”